Raiders hold on to jump to the top of the ladder

Published on Sunday, June 2, 2024

Author : Doug Long

A thrilling contest at Garvey Oval saw Old Paradians move to the top of the Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 ladder after holding on for a four-point victory over Old Eltham Collegians.

The 8.10 (58) to 7.12 (54) triumph is now the Raiders’ fifth consecutive victory on their home deck, as they move a game clear on top ahead of the King’s Birthday bye.

For most of the afternoon, it was goal for goal, but each side had a period of dominance in the third term.

Just seven points down at the main break, the Turtles attacked relentlessly early, but could only register three behinds. Then, seemingly against the run of play, the home side went forward where Noah Whittle snapped truly, and a few minutes later, his teammate Straun Thomson marked and converted.

A behind then set up a game-high lead of 17 points to Old Paradians, before Sean Leerson marked 60-metres out and kicked the ball quickly to Nick Milne who marked and slotted an easy goal for the visitors, one of two for the day for him. It put his team within reach at the last break with a 12-point deficit.

At the huddle, Old Eltham Collegians coach Matt Sleeman told his players not to panic and to find to the one-on-one contests, feeling that the match was still winnable if they executed their skills well.

The final quarter began well for the Turtles when, for the second occasion on the day, Thomas Burns broke free inside fifty for an easy goal.

With both sides excelling at applying pressure, combined with some rain falling through the middle part of the game, the contest then became a high intensity struggle. Just after midway point the quarter, Kieran Malone won a free kick on the boundary 20-metres out and found the big sticks to level the scores.

Mitch Merkel had had an up and down day prior to the final quarter. Earlier in the last term, he had slipped over when metres in the clear at half forward, but not to be deterred, he persisted to grab a crucial mark 40-metres out, before splitting the middle to put his team a goal in front.

It was déjà vu for Old Eltham Collegians. For the second week in a row, they were within a kick of their opponents and managed two behinds in the dying minutes to fall just short. With the ball deep in the Turtles’ forward line and the game in the balance, Merkel stepped up again to take a strong mark right on the siren to send the adoring local fans into raptures.

“To absorb what Old Eltham Collegians threw at us and to win was satisfying,” Old Paradians coach Ben Turner said.

Turner loved the work of his defence and named Sean Desmond as his best, who was resolute down back and made good decisions under pressure.

He was ably assisted by Declan Brunskill and Jack Nicolo, while Will Gilmore played a good negating goal on Matthew Williamson and kept him goalless.

Blair Healy kicked two majors in a polished display which included strong marking as well as the speed to run away from opponents.

Captain Marcus Nolan came back into the line-up this week, and looked dangerous whenever he was near the ball, also hitting the scoreboard.

The Raiders remain unbeaten at home this season and have overcome both the Stars and the Turtles at the venue without Sam Gilmore. If they can maintain that form, they look set to play a big part in finals action.

“Despite the back-to-back losses, it’s been a really good first half of the year and we shouldn’t forget the work we have done earlier in the season,” Old Eltham Collegians coach Matt Sleeman said.

Sleeman was full of praise for Tim Ellis for his usual superb efforts in defence. He also liked the work of Brent Macaffer and Nick Milne in the midfield, with Milne spending time forward and kicking two majors.  Macaffer got plenty of possessions and racked up a large number of clearances, particularly in the last quarter.

Helping out Ellis in a strong defence was Angus Robertson and Daniel Hallett.

Kieran Malone started strongly and was productive in the centre, while Bradyn Taglieri kicked an early goal and was a key player in the third term when his team fought hard to stay in the contest.

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